TORONTO — With a blaze of publicity centred around a 10-city Canadian marketing tour, Microsoft launched new versions of its relational database and its development system with promises of increased business productivity.
“We think from a development and software application perspective this kicks off a new wave of applications that can be built,” Microsoft Canada president David Hemler said Monday.
Although hardly household names, SQL Server 2005, a back-end database management system used by organizations and independent software vendors, and Visual Studio 2005, a suite of tools for building Windows-based software, are going to get the kind of treatment usually reserved for desktop applications.
Hemler estimated 14,000 copies of the standard editions will be given away to registered attendees at the sessions, which start this week in Toronto and hit Ottawa, Edmonton, Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal, Quebec City, Halifax and Winnipeg.
“This is the biggest launch than anything we’ve ever done in Canada,” said Hemler. “Bigger than any Windows launch, than the Office (2003) launch.”
However, some of the announced features won’t be shipping immediately. For example, the database mirroring management tools in the enterprise edition of SQL Server 2005 won’t be released for several months. The server version of Visual Studio’s Team System also won’t be available until next year. However, Hemler said that’s proof Microsoft is serious about not shipping software until it’s ready.
Part of the reason the company is making a marketing fuss is that it’s been five years since SQL 2000 came out and the company wants to tout its features. These include improved scalability, embedded reporting and data analysis tools as Microsoft continues to push SQL Server higher among enterprise-sized companies, where Oracle Database and IBM’s DB2 are strong.
Chris Alliegro of Directions on Microsoft, a Redmond, Wash., research company, called SQL Server 2005 “an enormous release.”
It now integrates the .Net framework common language runtime, which will let developers the ability to write stored procedures in C# and VB.Net. These languages are simpler than the T-SQL language they’ve had to use so far. That will be appreciated more by sophisticated developers, he said.
Among the analysis tools, SQL Server’s reporting services has been made more scalable and robust, Alliegro added. Using Report Builder, end users will be able to more easily decide what data will go into a report and how it is formatted. Table portioning, database mirroring (when it comes out), the ability to do online restores and index operation are all new features that will appeal to enterprise users, he added.
But “the challenge for Microsoft is that many of these new features are not new to its competitors,” said Alliegro. “Microsoft is clearly playing catch-up.”
Visual Studio 2005, whose code editors can be used to create projects in SQL Server and do Web development, offers a number of tools Visual Basic 6.0 users have been waiting for, according to Greg DeMichillie, another analyst with Directions on Microsoft. That may be enough to shift them to the .Net platform, he said.
More importantly, he said, Microsoft has made big improvements in the ASP.Net Web development platform in Visual Studio.
“The previous versions of Visual Studio were not good as a Web development tool,” he said. “It was designed more around how a desktop developer worked, not how a Web developer worked.”
There’s also a new Team System for groups who work in Visual Studio and need version control and other special features. Three modules are ready now — architect, software developer and tester. However, Visual Studio Team Foundation, which is the server version, isn’t ready yet.
Microsoft does have a beta version ready, but as DeMichillie said, for companies not willing to risk using beta software “for all intents and purposes Team system doesn’t ship until next year.”
There may also be some grumbling about the pricing of the team editions, which each cost $7,700, plus the several thousand dollars for the server. Although much less expensive compared to IBM Rational, a similar application, DeMichillie said Microsoft initially didn’t prepare customers for that price. “There were definitely a lot of customers who were taken aback,” he said.
The shortcomings of these two releases were oblivious to several early adoptors who were brought out for the press.
Huw Morgan, general manager of Toronto.com, an entertainment portal, said editors are using Visual Studio 2005 for its ability to let them drag and drop Web parts onto layout pages.
Thanh Trinh-Quang, manager of information technology at Telebec, a Quebec telecommunications division of Bell Canada, said the unit is using SQL Server 2005 to create data marts and is in the middle of creating a data warehouse. It had been using SQL Server 2000 and a Congnos front-end for the business intelligence, but found that combination didn’t integrate well with Microsoft Office.
David Atkinson, vice-president of Squirrel Systems, which makes point-of-sales software for the food services industry, said the new version of the company’s application would be built around SQL Server 2005. The new features Squirrel can take advantage of “are going to provide real reasons for chain stores to invest in technology,” he said.
Among Microsoft’s targets for SQL Server are independent software vendors, who create front-end solutions around databases. At the launch it released a survey by the Strategic Counsel of 200 Canadian ISVs that said 68 per cent of respondents believe SQL Server 2005 gives them better future business opportunities than Oracle or IBM databases.
However, David Rumer, Oracle Canada’s senior director of marketing, dismissed the survey, noting it was paid for by Microsoft.
Warren Shiau of Strategic Counsel agreed that “in general the ISV population is more aligned with Microsoft” than other database vendors.
Rumer also said that SQL Server 2005 is “playing catch-up” to Oracle Database 10g in features. He also said ISVs like Oracle because not only is it available on Windows, but it also comes out in Unix and Linux versions.
As a further lure for ISVs, last week Oracle announced it is creating a free version its database, called XE, for developers. However, it is limited to servers with one CPU and less than 1 GB of memory. A beta version is available now.